Slightly Scarlet

[1.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Another entry in the 2020 Pun Salad NoirFest. It's pretty bad: lousy acting, ludicrous plot, loopy wooden dialog, unbelievable characters. But in color. And the sets are pretty amazing, 1950s garish. It's based on a James M. Cain novel, but not one of the good ones.

Arlene Dahl and Rhonda Fleming play sisters, one good, one bad and crazy. (I'm not sure which is which, and it doesn't matter.) As the movie opens, the bad/crazy one is getting out of jail, picked up by the good one, the tender scene being surreptitiously photographed by John Payne for some reason. (Again, it doesn't matter.)

There's election skullduggery, where a corrupt city administration is ousted, and the head cop is replaced by … oops, John Payne working behind the scenes, via his wooing of Good Sister, who works for the new mayor. He also has plans to replace the current mob boss, who he's fingered for the murder of a reform-minded political financier.

Meanwhile, Bad/Crazy Sister is giving in to her kleptomaniac urges. Also her nymphomaniac urges (which are depicted as clearly as you could in a 1950s movie). Can she stay out of jail? And out of the line of fire between John Payne and the mob boss?

I'm not quite sure how it turns out, because I fell asleep near the end. Still, I watched most of it, so it counts.


[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

This 2019 movie turns out to be the final entry in M. Night Shyamalan's movie trilogy that started with Unbreakable (2000, 19 years previous) and Split (2016). This was teased in Split's final scene, where Bruce Willis's character (David Dunn) learns about James McAvoy's character (Kevin, plus his multiple personalities).

So it wouldn't hurt to maybe rewatch Unbreakable and Split before you tackle this one. Although we managed OK.

Anyway, Kevin (and his multiple personalities) are up to their old tricks, kidnapping cheerleaders for their usual demented purposes. David has been in the shadows since Unbreakable, occasionally doing some vigilante work, assisted by his superpowers; the cops want to catch him for this freelancing. (Philadelphia is apparently no place to be a superhero.) He's assisted by his son, Joseph. (Nice touch: Joseph is played by the young adult actor who played the same role, as a child, in Unbreakable.)

But soon enough, both Kevin and David wind up in custody, under the care of Dr. Ellie. Who seems determined to demonstrate that there's nothing superpowered going on here. Why? Well, that's eventually revealed. But also in the same facility is Elijah, the bad guy from Unbreakable, Samuel L. Jackson. He seems to have been drugged into catatonia, but come on, we know he's faking, and he's only waiting for the chance to cause some mayhem.

It's supremely silly, but also pretty watchable, at least for me. McAvoy's multiple-personality schtick is a lot of fun to watch, I like Bruce Willis no matter what, and Mr. Jackson always scares the crap out of me.

Last Modified 2020-09-23 7:06 AM EDT


[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Not to be confused with the 2005 Joss Whedon space movie with Nathan Fillion et. al.. And it may not be your cup of tea, as it was not the cup of tea with IMDB raters (see above). Also with a dismal Metacritic score. (But Richard Roeper says its "one of the most entertaining thrillers in recent years", right on the DVD box. So, it may be your cup of tea.)

And there's a lot of talent involved. Oscar winners Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, for example. And I see they were nominated for this movie too: for "Worst Actor" and "Worst Actress Razzies.

It starts out as a pretty standard film noir in fact. Lots of booze, cigarettes, and hard-boiled dialog. Baker Dill (McConaughey) is a charter fishing boat captain obsessed with catching a specific tuna. His Ahab-like behavior is putting him in dire financial straits, but out of the blue comes ex-wife Karen (Hathaway) with one of those simple propositions: my new husband is brutalizing me and your son, he'll kill us if we try to leave him, could you please murder him, I'll give you $10 million.

As I said, it starts out in that honorable tradition. But things take an odd turn. Odd enough so that I'm not even tempted to spoil them. I'll say this though: the IMDB genre classification is "Drama, Mystery, Thriller", but a more honest description would add at least one more.

[OK, if you really want to know what's going on, click here.]

And here's an interesting coincidence: actor Djimon Hounsou is in this, and he was also in the 2005 Serenity! Producers, if you want to get Djimon in your movie, you know what you have to title it.

Sometimes Always Never

[2.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

This might be a decent movie. But the DVD has an inexcusable flaw: no subtitling.

I hate to be a cranky old fart. But my hearing is not what it used to be. And my TV's sound system is … well, there's a reason that there's a decent market for soundbars. We don't have one, though.

And it's a Brit movie, with everyone talking with an accent of varying degrees of thickness. And sometimes they are whispering. Blimey.

But what I got was not bad. It's funny in a lot of places. The main character, Alan, is played by Bill Nighy, and he's excellent. I'm sure that if I'd heard a lot more dialog…

Anyway: Alan and his son Peter are on a grim mission: a corpse has been found, and they are asked to check to see if it's Michael, Alan's "prodigal" son who ditched the family over a Scabble dispute years ago. They meet up with another couple, Arthur and Margaret, who are performing the same task (for the same body). And Alan reveals himself as a Scrabble hustler. Causing strife between Arthur and Margaret.

Well, it's not Michael. But Margaret and Alan wind up having a fling…

Margaret is played by Jenny Agutter, by the way. Any red-blooded young man who watched An American Werewolf in London has had fantasies about being taken home by a sexy nurse looking like Ms. Agutter. Minus all the gore of course.

Mr. Jones

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Geez, about time we got even a mildly anti-Commie movie. But it's really rough on the New York Times.

Safely at the remove of 87 years or so, but we'll take what we can get.

Mr. (Gareth) Jones is played by James Norton, known in this house as the vicar in the TV show Grantchester. (Mrs. Salad, I'm pretty sure, adds the adjective "hunky" to that description.) He is a Welsh journalist, also a semi-official advisor to Prime Minister Lloyd George. As the movie opens, he's trying to raise some alarm at home about the Nazi menace—he's managed an interview with Hitler and Goebbels—to little avail. His career hanging by a thread, he decides to attempt another coup, an interview with Stalin, to find out the truth about those unlikely stories of economic success peddled by (for example) Walter Duranty in the New York Times.

When he gets to Moscow, he's unprepared for the totalitarianism of the state. But he's really unprepared for the corruption of the Western press in Moscow. The movie shows them to be a dissolute bunch, more interested in kinky partying than diligent fact-finding. And they're strangely unconcerned about a fellow journalist who got gunned down in the street a few days previous. But Jones persists, travelling to the Ukraine, where he witnesses the horrors of the Holodomor. And barely escapes with his life.

It's a grim story, and one of the backdrops is the US recognition of the USSR. This is also hinted as corrupt, pushed by Big Business looking for trade opportunities with the Commies.

A couple screens at the end show the differing fates of Jones and Duranty: Jones was murdered in 1935, probably by the NKVD, in Mongolia, where he was reporting on the Japanese occupation. Duranty, on the other hand, died in Orlando, Florida in 1957 at the age of 73, of natural causes.

The End of the Tour

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I was a mild David Foster Wallace fan, and that may have affected my interest in this movie. Specifically: I didn't fall asleep. I'm not sure how a non-fan would take it.

It's the based-on-truth story of how Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky latched onto DFW for a few days on the tail end of the book tour for Infinite Jest in 1996. (Jesse Eisenberg plays Lipsky, and "How I Met Your Mother" actor Jason Segel plays DFW. (Just so we know the sad story: the movie's first scene is Lipsky learning of DFW's 2008 suicide, and most of the remaining is a flashback.)

DFW is portrayed as … well, it's complex. He's reclusive and secretive at times, others hospitable and generous. Both reticent and revealing. Proud of his literary talent, but also aware of the pitfalls it could bring.

But Lipsky has his own baggage. His editor is hassling him to get the lowdown on DFW's alleged drug abuse; he correctly senses that probing that issue might ruin his rapport with the writer. He's (maybe) more than slightly jealous of DFW's fame and talent, while his own writing career is nowheresville.

The movie is mainly dialog between Lipsky and DFW, as they travel from DFW's Illinois home to Minneapolis for the book tour stop, and back. So a lot depends on whether you might find that inherently interesting. I did, mostly. And I put the book on which this movie is based on my TTR list, so make of that what you will.

Fun fact: according to IMDB Trivia, Lipsky's DFW article never went beyond the interview stage. Interesting, and a little sad.

Woman on the Run

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Pun Salad NoirFest 2020 continues. This is an Amazon Prime streamer, but I put the DVD as my image (on your right) because the old movie poster is much cooler.

The Woman in the title is Eleanor (Ann Sheridan), and (movie consumer alert) she's not actually on the run. Her hubby Frank is on the run, because he witnessed a cold-blooded mob-related murder while walking his doggy in the Streets of San Francisco. (This is a really good movie for checking out late-40s SF, by the way.) Frank is wary about being the next victim, so he goes underground to escape both the cops (who want a witness) and the killer. Eleanor seems outwardly indifferent, but she actually wants to find Frank. She (also) ditches the cops (numerous times) and goes on the hunt, picking up obscure clues Frank has left behind. She's assisted by devilishly handsome newspaper guy (Dennis O'Keefe) who promises her big money if he can get Frank's exclusive story.

The plot is farfetched, and some of the dialog is wooden and stupid. And the climax is clunky. But some of the other dialog, especially Ann Sheridan's, is wonderfully cynical and witty. And saves the movie from a mere two stars.

No Man of Her Own

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Continuing the Pun Salad Noir Festival 2020…

The movie opens with Barbara Stanwyck and John Lund looking guiltily at each other in the living room of a very large house. Barbara's voiceover mentions murder most foul. And then there's a call… the cops are on the way to … what, exactly? Well, a flashback comprising most of the rest of the movie explains it: back in the day, Barbara's in the family way, and she's tracked down the dad to where he's shacked up with a floozie. Her pounding on the door only results in a train ticket to San Francisco being shoved under the door. Get lost, Barbara, you and the kid.

It's the 1950s so nobody says "pregnant".

I'd explain the plot further, but it's ludicrous. Suffice to say that Barbara goes from desperate and miserable, to frantic, to happy, to apprehensive, to desperate again…

And let me just say it's a damn travesty that she never won an Oscar. Because no matter how implausible the plot is, she's totally believable all the way through.

And at a certain point, she goes from "hopeless anguish" to "ice-cold bitch with a plan". In about 0.4 seconds. Personally, I was chilled. I can't think of any current actress who could manage that so convincingly. Okay, maybe Sandra Bullock.

Scandal Sheet

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

OK, The Big Clock is lots better. But if you've seen The Big Clock, and you're in the mood for something similar, this is an OK choice. We spent a Netflix DVD pick on it.

For a long time—a real long time—I only thought of Broderick Crawford as Dan Matthews in Highway Patrol. But a few years back I saw Born Yesterday, which I didn't care for too much, but Mr. Crawford was good. And I've never seen him in the movie for which he won the Oscar, All the King's Men.

But anyway, he's pretty good in this B-movie. He plays Matt Chapman, the editor of a tabloid New York paper, catering to the basest reading appetites of Gothamites. This shocks the more refined tastes of the board of directors, but they can't really argue with results: he's resurrected the paper from doom. He relies on his crack team of reporters (John Derek, and a cigar-chomping Harry Morgan) to get the garish details on the latest crimes. Derek is sweet on feature writer Donna Reed, and she's also attracted, but put off by his complicity with the sleazy trajectory of the paper.

Among the paper's non-journalistic efforts is the "Lonely Hearts Club". A dance for the Hearts is held, which leads to someone out of Chapman's past recognizing him. Threats are made, someone winds up dead, a coverup is attempted, diligent reporters investigate, another someone winds up dead,… Well, it's complicated and a certain amount of fun seeing the environs of NYC in the 1950s.

Samuel Fuller wrote the novel on which this is based, so that's why it's part of the "Samuel Fuller Collection" pictured above. The DVD restoration is impeccable.

The Barbarian Invasions

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Mrs. Salad has one pretty solid rule: no movies about terminal cancer. So she declined to watch this. It's French-Canadian, mostly set around Montreal. And it won the 2004 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film despite that. The IMDB genres: 'Comedy, Crime, Drama', although the comedy is people sitting around being "witty" in French, so take that with a grain of salt. It's actually a sequel to the 1986 movie The Decline of the American Empire, which sounds even less funny. (But was nominated for the Foreign movie Oscar.)

Anyway: The dying guy is Rémy, and over the years he's managed to wreck his family. His estranged son Sébastien is summoned from abroad by his estranged ex-wife to be by his side. He appears reluctantly, but eventually gets into the spirit of things. He summons the old gang back together (I assume from that previous movie) to visit Rémy in his hospital room. He arranges for a local junkie to supply Rémy with heroin. He figures out how to move Rémy to a better room in a less crowded area of the hospital. And…

Well, I should say something about that. This movie seems to be (in part) an effective argument against socialized medicine, at least as it was practiced in Quebec in 2003. Rémy's hospital care is a nightmarish hellscape, with groaning patients in the hallways, no privacy, and ineffective pain management. Theft from patients is common and the cops do nothing. Sébastien is rich enough to buy Rémy out of this. It helps that everyone involved (hospital administrators, union laborers) are easily corruptible with enough cash.

And when Sébastien thinks Rémy needs more sophisticated diagnosis, they head over the border to Burlington, Vermont—I'm pretty sure Bernie Sanders doesn't know about this—for better treatment from American capitalist health care.

It's OK. Plus an extra half-star for the libertarian message.